When I was in my early teens my family and I stayed overnight with a couple in Huntington, West Virginia, who had four daughters, roughly the ages of the Somerville boys. I developed a huge crush on one of them, Mary Scott, and when I woke up the next morning in an upstairs room I breathed on the window and traced our initials on the glass with one finger: “J.S. + M.S.K.” That was as close as I came to professing my love for her.
But a few years later she arrived on the campus of the same college I was attending. I was a sophomore, she was a freshman, and if anything she was even more beautiful than I remembered. I knocked on her door one evening and told her the story of how I had written our initials on the window of that upstairs room, hoping that she would say, “Really? I had a crush on you, too!” But she didn’t. She didn’t seem to remember that visit, and I’m pretty sure she didn’t remember me. She started dating the goalie on the soccer team and I swallowed my disappointment and moved on.
Eventually we got to be friends, so that when I got a letter from her mother last year (who lives near Richmond, heard one of my sermons, and wrote asking if I still remembered her family), I was able to say, “Please tell Mary Scott hello.” She did, and Mary Scott said “hello” right back.
Her mother and I have corresponded a couple of times since then, and so I wasn’t surprised to get an envelope yesterday with her return address in the upper left hand corner. What surprised me was the news inside: Mary Scott had died in a snowboarding accident in Colorado.
It’s not the first time one of my peers has died, but it’s the first time it’s happened to someone I once had a crush on. It feels different, somehow. I think back to those initials on the glass and wonder, “Is that how it is? Do people’s lives evaporate like those letters did? Is that the end of Mary Scott?” But then I remember those lines from Isaiah 49, where God says to his people: “Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands” (Isa. 49:15-16a). I picture those initials—”M.S.K.”—written on God’s palm forever, and I breathe a sigh of relief. Because I know that Mary Scott was also one of God’s people.
And I know that she’s going to be OK.